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We’ve been back in the US a year now. We left Ecuador for a number of reasons.

Ecuador can be a great place to retire if you have a fixed income or an online business that doesn’t depend on doing business under the rules and regulations of Ecuador. But if you’re actually trying to make something in Ecuador and sell it there, it’s pretty tough. Not that it’s easy anywhere…but Ecuador is extremely challenging.

While our business grew to the point where it could support a modest lifestyle, it stopped there and never really took off. And the headaches were just never ending. And the possibilities for growth were hard to find.

Whereas I just began doing freelance work here, and I’ve already got four projects under my belt in two weeks. Economic opportunity, while challenging to find, still abounds here in the US, and is much more limited, IMHO, in Ecuador. I’m glad to back and and working on new projects.

The family is having a hard time adjusting, however. We had built up a great community and friends, and the British School Quito was a great community of interesting expat families. It’s a bit more provincial here.

The papers here have been buzzing the last few weeks with the overnight draconian steps of the government to limit imports. The government is implementing import substitution-protect local industry and make every thing possible local. It doesn’t sound bad in theory. But this policy is going to have a lot of consequences-maybe higher prices, less choice, and lower quality, at least in the short run. Because of a trade deficit and zero control over monetary policy (Ecuador is on the US dollar), the country could literally run out of dollars if it doesn’t:

  • increase exports or the value of current exports
  • decrease imports
  • find dollars somewhere else

So, with oil prices declining, and oil being the main source of revenues for the government, and imports increasing in the last few years, the government has gone into crisis mode. The first signs were the ridiculous and sudden halting of imported meat and french fries for fast food companies like McDonald’s and Burger King. They did this under the pretense that they did not meet the new standards and certifications the government is now requiring for all imported goods. This standards and certifications requirements was another shotgun measure to slow imports-but they didn’t give any one any forewarning, and industry created quite a stir. No one is importing anything that can be made cheaper here and of better quality. Even many imported goods are of equal or better quality and cheaper. Just one small example, Baskin Robbins Ice Cream (imported) is $8.00 a quart. Locally made ice cream from Cyrano/Corfu, a well-known gourmet shop with presence all over Quito, is $10 a quart. So how the government believes that overnight, the country is suddenly going to start producing all the goods it needs of top quality at a competitive price (due to the new standards and certifications the govenrment is requiring) is anyone’s guess. And how they’re going to do it for the same or lower price as imported goods-well, that’s an even bigger question. The most likely outlook for the next six to twelve months is this:

  • There will be a lack of replacement parts and imported goods in many sectors. I’ve already heard of speculation because nobody’s sure just how far this is going to go.
  • Many imported foods, cosmetics, appliances, and other items will start becoming scarce due to hoarding and speculation.
  • Local goods will slow start to replace some imported items, at a higher cost and probably of lesser quality.

Travelers are often surprised at how expensive Ecuador is. You can easily pay $1.50 to $2.50 for a cup of coffee. Cheap accommodations can run you as little as $15 a night or as high as $30 a night. Bus fares to most parts of the country can cost anywhere from a few dollars to maybe as high as 15 or $20. Cheap meal can be $2 or $10. So a lot of what is “cheap” depends not only on your perspective, but on the quality of services you are comfortable with.

You can drink a cup of instant coffee or poorly made coffee for under a dollar at a lot of places. Or you can have a pretty decent, well-made cup of coffee, cappuccino, or other fancy coffee drink for a $1.50 to $2.50 at a fancy coffee bar. You can sleep in cheap accommodations, where no ways, bedbugs, and lack of security may be the norm. If you’re comfortable doing this, you can save a lot of money. Traveling by bus can be very cheap, but it all depends on your risk tolerance. Every year, there are numerous serious bus accidents in Ecuador, often with fatalities. If you’re okay with that, travel can be really cheap. If you’re not, expect to pay from $60 a day and up for a private taxi and driver, and similar rates for a rental car.

Just because it’s a developing country doesn’t mean it’s cheap.  If you want to travel safely, comfortably, and eat well,consider the following. Because the general standards of quality, safety, and comfort here are often below what we are used to in the United States or other modernized countries, you will pay extra to maintain the standards you are used to. However, there are some ways to save money.

You’ll find that if you do eat at very cheap places, where you can get a lunch say for $2.50, you might find yourself with stomach problems or worse. This will cost you a trip to the doctor and pharmacy, which will run you at least $30-$50. If you’re willing to spend a little more, and eat at slightly better places, you may avoid a lot of stomach troubles. Without going to the very best spots, you can easily have a decent lunch for anywhere from $7.50 to $10, or, better yet, head to the supermarket and pick up a baguette, some cheese, some fresh fruit, and whatever else you like on the cheap and eat well. Spending a little more for meals can save you time and money, and help you keep your health intact.

If you’re planning on staying for the long term, or a couple of weeks in a couple of different spots, use a service like AirBnB.com to find rentals in the area. This can be a lot cheaper than staying in hostels or hotels.

If you’re out shopping for handicrafts at one of the local artisan markets, just assume that the price you’re offered upon your first glance an item is at least double what you should pay. So, even if you don’t speak much Spanish, start the bargaining game. Bargaining is a friendly, regular part of doing business for Ecuadorians, so don’t be intimidated and don’t take anything personally. Offer a price that is at least Of the initial price, if not a third of it, and work your way up from there. Don’t feel guilty about paying less – Ecuadorians like to bargain and you may be pleasantly surprised how much fun it can be. And you’re saving yourself some money while learning to interact with the locals.

While Ecuador can be surprisingly expensive, by following a few simple rules like eating well and bargaining with the locals, you’ll save money while making your trip more enjoyable.

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Many people ask me the safest way to travel in Ecuador. First, it depends on what you mean by “safe.” Are you willing to travel at night? On a bus? Do you have the budget you need for renting a car or hiring a taxi?

Safety standards for public transportation are not what most people would expect if you grew up in the modern world. Nor are they greatly enforced. Public accommodations on buses are often crowded and uncomfortable. Consider these factors when choosing your means of transportation.

You’d  like to visit several places, and do it cheaply, safely, and efficiently. Buses are a cheap way to get around, and one quick rule of thumb is that you’ll pay about a dollar for each hour of travel. So, for example, a bus from Quito to Esmeraldas is about a 6 hour trip, and the fare should be somewhere in the $6 range. And while buses do travel fast, they often stop frequently, making your trip longer than necessary at times. The one major caveat with buses is that there are several crashes, frequently with fatalities, each year in Ecuador. Night buses are even riskier than day buses, so consider your risk tolerance carefully. Buses are not well regulated for safety and speed limits are usually not enforced in Ecuador. Drivers’ sense of caution may seem to be non-existent. Whenever travelling by bus, keep your belongings at arms’ length-do not allow them to be placed in the storage areas under the bus. If you do, be sure to get off immediately at every stop to make sure they are not stolen. Preferably, keep your belongings with you and in your sight at all times.

Another way to travel, which is a bit more expensive but can result in a more stress-free, comfortable trip, with the opportunity to stop along the way where you’d like, say for a scenic photo, is to hire a cab and driver. You’ll pay anywhere from $60 to $90 a day. On top of that, you need to include meals for the driver, and if you’re taking him overnight, his accommodations. Of course, you don’t have to put him up in an expensive place if that’s where you’re staying. If you’re departing from Quito or Guayaquil, the best way to find a good driver is through your hotel or personal contacts.

Finally, there is car rental. Car rental is not cheap, but affords you the opportunity to go where you please whenever you like. Once outside Quito or Guayaquil, driving is not quite as harrying as in the city. Gas is cheap-currently premium fuel is about $2 a gallon, and regular around $1.40. For even cheaper fuel, rent a diesel if you can. Diesel is $1 a gallon. There are decent maps for Ecuador and the road system is fairly simple. If you speak basic Spanish, you can usually get directions at gas stations or restaurants along your route.

My tips for safe travel here cover the main forms of transportation available for long distances. I’ll discuss travel tips for when you’re in the city and out and about on foot in a later post. Check back soon for more useful information on living and travelling in Ecuador.

IMG_0354Tomorrow I’ll be heading down to Guayaquil  to lead our second annual chocolate to her. Getting out of Quito is not as easy as it used to be, but fortunately I live near the airport which is only 20 minutes from my house. It’s not the same brief hop, skip, and jump to Guayaquil as it used to be, as getting to the airport from Quito can take anywhere from one to two or more hours. Keep this in mind when you come to Ecuador.

We have an internationjal group this year, consisting of three Americans, one person from the Netherlands, two South Koreans, and two people from Scotland. A lot less Americans this year, and more people from other places. Also, we don’t have anyone in the bean to bar business rather, they are all chocolatiers making bonbons and other products from finished chocolate.

The tour is not only a great opportunity to see Ecuador, but a great way to see something that most tourists never get to see or learn about. We don’t go to any of the “main attractions” that many people think of when they read about Ecuador or look at websites advertising tours. We won’t visit the Equator monument, we won’t see the animals in the Galapagos Islands, we won’t swim with pink river dolphins, and we won’t visit any volcanoes or mountains.

However, what we will see is how cocoa is grown, harvested, fermented, and commercialized in Ecuador. We will meet with cocoa farmers, growers cooperative’s, cocoa brokers, and chocolate makers in Ecuador. We’ll see how chocolate is transformed from bean to bar.

We start the trip in the hot, steamy city of Guayaquil. From there we head through the coastal low lands to the province of Los Rios, which is one of the main centers of cocoa activity for all of Ecuador. From here will continue on to window, a small town better known for its birdwatching activities than for its chocolate.

We pass briefly through Quito, stopping to see a chocolate factory before heading down to the Amazon. In the Amazon we’ll visit an island in the middle of the Napo river, where a farmer cultivates not only cocoa, but other tropical plants like bananas and annatto, and some exotic ones most of us have never heard of.

The tour concludes with the dinner in Quito and a chocolate tasting. You’ll never stop wanting to learn about chocolate once you’ve delved into Ecuador’s chocolate world, so join us as soon as you can, or contact me directly for an organized private tour.

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Welcome to Destination Ecuador!

Welcome to Destination Ecuador! My family and I have been living in Ecuador for the last four and a half years. We’ve dealt with the worst kinds of red-tape, searched out or ended up making hard-to-find ingredients ourselves, imported equipment for making chocolate confections, learned the import-export business...Continue >>

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